Obituary: James Cantwell

Posted: July 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

Last August saw the passing of one-time Waterford News and Star journalist Jim Cantwell at the age of 75. Although best known for being the first Communications Director of the Irish Catholic Church, it was in the offices of the then Waterford Star where Jim’s fledgling media career took flight.

Although educated in Dublin, it was on Suirside that Jim’s family had their roots and to where he returned upon the completion of secondary school in the mid-fifties. A voracious reader with a passion for sport, the teenager had developed a keen eye for prose and soon identified journalism as his career of choice.

Having secured a six month trial at the ‘Star through a family friend, Jim’s vocation began in the time-honoured tradition of all journalism careers – making tea and delivering post. Whether he excelled at either was moot, so short a time did he take to progress to full-fledged reporter, after an act of daring initiative earned him the scoop of the year.

Realising he had access to the ‘Star’s headed paper, Jim wrote to then Manchester United manager, Matt Busby to request an interview. Already a giant of the game, a Busby interview represented a boon for any reporter, be they seasoned or cub. However, when the United manager replied to say he had acquiesced to the request, Jim’s initial euphoria was soon dampened when he read Busby’s only condition – that the interview be in person. In Manchester. Although modest by today’s standards, the fare to England nonetheless represented a significant hurdle and one that was only finally negotiated at the eleventh hour when a collection from extended family, neighbours and friends raised the requisite funds.

Upon his return from Manchester Jim used the currency of his Busby scoop to barter his way up the Journalism ladder and was duly promoted to full time reporter where he covered various sports, most notably the successful Waterford hurling side of the late ‘50’s, as well as Waterford United football games, where the great Alfie Hale – a life-long friend of Jim’s – was starting out on his own fledging career.

But it was the Busby scoop that had clearly marked his card as a reporter of great ambition, with then editor Sean Purcell remarking to Star reporter Nicky Donnelly “we won’t be able to hold onto him.”  And sure enough in 1958 Jim followed on a path well-worn and moved to the UK, taking a position at the Stoke Sentinel, where he covered the progress of the two local football teams, Port Vale and Stoke City on alternate weekends.

A few years later and another move saw Jim hitch up at the Bournemouth Echo, where again, he covered a range of sports, including, one year, the Open Golf Championship – an assignment that not so much highlighted his diverse range of sporting knowledge as much as further evidence of a brass neck, with Jim later admitting to having not known the difference between a putter and an iron!

After working at a few more UK titles (all of which, like the Sentinel and the Echo, soon became defunct – although, as Jim joked, not all of the closures were down to him!), in 1977 he returned to Ireland where he took up the position as the inaugural Communications Director of the Catholic Church, where his immediate task was to justify his new role to a sceptical media who questioned the Church requiring a PR department in the first place.

Although he would go on to more than justify the role over the following 30 years, playing an important role in what would turn out to be a seismic period in the history of the Catholic Church here, it was always in those initial few years in journalism – and in particular his time with the Star – where Jim’s happiest memories of his media career lay.

After a fifteen month battle, Jim finally succumbed to pancreatic cancer on August 22nd last year. He will be greatly missed by his wife Eileen, four children and his many relatives and friends in the Gentle County.

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